Defending fast pitch champs looking for three-peat

Jason Malloy
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St. John’s, N.L., squad will be missing a couple of key players early in national tournament

It took many cracks to get to the pinnacle of the Canadian fast pitch scene and 3 Cheers Pub aren’t going to give up the title without a fight.

“We’re coming to Charlottetown for one reason and that’s to try and three-peat,” head coach John Hill said on Saturday.

CLICK HERE FOR MORE ON THE TOURNAMENT AND 3 CHEERS PUB'S TRAVEL PROBLEMS.

The defending champs won Newfoundland and Labrador’s first national senior men’s championship in 2012 in Fredericton, N.B., and repeated last year in Stratford, Ont.

The first title was won in a hotel lobby when the final was called after four innings due to rain.

Last year, Brad Ezekiel hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the seventh against Scarborough, Ont. Hill played at his first nationals in 1978 and went to more than 15 more before tasting victory in the final. At one point, teams left the Rock trying to see how far they could advance. Now the attitude is to win the whole thing.

Hill said he has looked at other teams’ rosters in this year’s tournament and knows it will be a tough task to complete the trifecta.

“There may be only seven teams at the Canadians this year, but they’re all stacked pretty good,” he said. “They want to have a chance to dethrone us.”

3 Cheers Pub have a couple of roster changes this year. Brooklyn native Jeff Ellsworth has joined the host Charlottetown John Brown Grille Fawcetts while shortstop Ian Fehrman is not playing this year.

But there’s plenty of talent remaining on the deep 3 Cheers Pub roster.

“They’re natural-born winners each and every one of them and it starts right at the head of the ship,” said Ellsworth, pointing to Hill and assistant coach Colin Abbott, a longtime veteran of the national team.

“They are very professional in their preparation before the game. . . They have a nice game plan each and every game.”

And they have eight of Canada’s 40-man pool trying to make the national team for international play.

They have added outfielder John Kelly, who has plenty of experience at nationals, and Jeremy OReilly, a first baseman and middle infielder, to the mix. Colin Walsh, who was part of last year’s squad while a junior-age player, is also with the team and is expected to fill a bigger role whether at first, the outfield or in the pitcher’s circle.

The defending champs will be without two key cogs early in the tournament as ace Sean Cleary won’t be in town until Friday and first baseman Steve Mullaly until Thursday. Both will be late arriving due to work commitments.

The Newfoundland juggernaut will lean more on pitcher Sean Whitten, but he has been nursing a hamstring injury as well.

“We’re going in kind of wounded and shorthanded,” Hill said. “We’re going to have to work a lot harder this year in the round robin than we did the last couple of years.”

But he said they would embrace the challenge and are looking forward  to playing in Charlottetown, where they lost 3-2 to the Fawcetts in the semifinal of the 2010 nationals.

Geographic location: Charlottetown, Newfoundland and Labrador, Fredericton Stratford Scarborough Brooklyn Canada

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